Sometimes when I sleep, I dream about hockey.
I dream about what it will be like to score my first NHL goal. And it’s pretty vivid.
My whole family is there cheering for me. Loud. They’re so proud.
In that dream, my goal is always a rebound or something, nothing too fancy. But everyone in my family is just so … happy. They’re overjoyed.
My family and I have been through a lot during the past year, so it’s always nice when I have that first-goal dream. It comes as a relief, in many ways.
Last September, my stepmother, who I loved dearly, passed away only two months after we found out that cancer had been attacking her entire body.
It was awful.
She was such an amazing woman — a second mother for me. Even talking about it now, I’m getting choked up. She loved me and she loved hockey, and she always encouraged me to work to be the best I could be. But beyond all that, the way she made my dad happy was so wonderful. My dad was so in love, and when we found out that she only had a few months left, it was really hard on everyone.
Then, at around the same time, on a warm summer day, my father called me and my brothers into the living room. He said he had to talk to us about something. But that’s all he said. We had no idea what was happening.
After we sat down, my dad just started crying. He broke down.
And then he looked us in the eye, and he told us that he had prostate cancer.
It was shocking because we were already dealing with my stepmom’s diagnosis. In addition to that, my mother is currently struggling with multiple sclerosis, so we were trying to help comfort her as well. And then to find out that my dad has cancer, too …
It was like something out of a nightmare. And I’d be lying if I said that playing hockey with all that going on wasn’t tough.
The truth is, it’s not always easy to concentrate on moving and passing the puck when people you love are fighting for their lives.
Sometimes, just for a split second, your mind drifts. You can’t help it. You wish you could, but you can’t.
You know that you need to focus on what’s happening in front of you, on the ice, but as much as you try, sometimes you just … can’t.
And you feel bad about that. You feel bad, of course, because of what’s going on with your family, and how these diseases are affecting the people closest to you. But you also feel bad because you know you owe so much to your teammates, and the last thing you want to do is lose focus on the ice.
So you do the best you can, and you take things day by day.
Hockey, it turns out, can help.
My love for the game goes all the way back to when I was three years old. My dad would lug me to the arena in Sainte-Martine, Que., and he’d always tell me about how my grandfather, who worked construction, helped build the place with his own hands.
“He built this for you,” my dad would say. And that ignited my passion for hockey at a very young age. From there, my dad made sure I had everything I needed to pursue that passion.
My father is a truck driver.
He didn’t have a big job making a lot of money, but he always found a way to get me to the rink, and to pay for all the tournaments. He’s always sacrificed for me. He would have busy weeks and long hours, but he would still take me all around the country, or to Buffalo, or anywhere else I needed to go to play.
He always found a way. And he always made me feel important.
When I was seven or so, my dad was my coach, and I remember one day the team was shooting pucks up against the boards. He came over to me afterward, and he told me that I was the only one on the team who was able to lift the puck.
You could tell he was proud.
He saw a flash in me — that I could be good at hockey — and I still remember how excited I was out on the ice when he told me that.
Hockey has helped bring me and my family closer together, and when things got tough for us, the game was one of the things that helped me to fight through the pain.
Last summer, after we found out about my stepmom’s cancer, I had a terrible training camp. Even at the beginning of the season, I just wasn’t myself. I always tried my best, of course, but it was tough.
Then, one day, my Victoriaville coach, Bruce Richardson, called me into his office for a talk. He said: “Hockey is the best sport in the world, and when you’re at the rink you should only think about hockey. When you get out of the rink, you can think about everything else. But if you perform well on the ice, that’s going to help your family feel better and make them happy.”
So I took that to heart, and I started playing hockey again the way I know I can play. I focused on being a good leader for my team, and doing everything I could to make my family proud.
At the beginning of the season, because I was so down, I wasn’t really hanging out as much with the boys. But that all changed after my talk with coach. I started to go out with them again, to have fun. Before long, I realized that the boys were all behind me — that they had my back — and it made a huge difference.
At one point, I missed a game because I had to go see my dad, and my teammates all texted me, like, It’s gonna be O.K., and, We’re gonna win this game for you.
That meant the world to me.
If it weren’t for the game of hockey, and the support I received from my coaches and fellow players, who knows how I would’ve gotten through everything? I’m so grateful for this game, and all the ways it’s been there for me.
I’m also thankful for the tight-knit group of people around me: my billets, Martin Pageau and Nancy Provencal; my stepfamily, Pascal Ménard, Renée Houle and Rosary Ménard, who carried me through my roughest times; and lastly, Normand Conway and Allan Walsh, who were there each step of the way to keep me on track. And now, in 2016, things are starting to look up. My dad’s cancer-free, and perfectly fine, and my mom’s hanging in there. My brothers and I are doing all we can to support her and show our love.
In January, I made my mark at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. That was fun — two goals and an assist, against some of the best players in the world at my level.
Every time there’s a big game, or a big opportunity, I always get this feeling inside me. I can’t explain to you what it is. But I felt it on that day, and I could just tell it was going to be special game for me as soon as I got on the ice. Everything I was doing was working.
I realized that I was just as good as the other players out there, and when it was over I was proud of how I’d performed. My whole family was watching on TV back home, so that made it even more special. That game really gave me a boost of confidence for the rest of the season, and I finished up strong with Victoriaville.
I’ve worked hard during the past year, and I’ve gotten better at the game. This summer, I’ve been focusing on my release with my strength coach — really concentrating on my forearms. So my shot is going to be quicker than ever, and I’m going to really be able to surprise goalies next season. Plus, Paul Gagné has me doing a lot of work with bands at his gym in Montreal, so I’m putting in the hours, training hard and doing everything I need to do to be ready.
At this point, I’m just so excited to hear my name get called during the draft. It’s not every day that you get drafted into the NHL, you know?
And you can rest assured that I’m going to continue working hard — as hard as it takes — to ensure that when I do score that first goal, for real, it will be even better than my dream. I know my stepmom will be watching from above. And my dad will be so proud of me. He’s going to give me a big hug, and it’s going to be a great moment for us — for my whole family, really.
Everyone will be so proud.